Magazine article Online

Online Communication with the Ex-USSR

Magazine article Online

Online Communication with the Ex-USSR

Article excerpt

Until the mid-'80s the Soviet Union basically appeared as a closed society to Western observers. Communication by letter took weeks, fax and telex connections were rare and computer links were limited to a few scientific institutes. With the demise of the old USSR, unnoticed by most scientists in East and West, electronic webs were spun between the Soviet Union and the "electronic community" in the industrialized countries. These contacts have become all-important lifelines for communication during the present period of instability for the new republics in the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Baltics.

Here is an update of the currently available services, most of which are limited to providing electronic mail services or access to public data nets, though some provide other host services such as databases or teleconferencing[1]. Almost all the initiatives are commercial. This means that in communications with the ex-USSR the Western partners should remember that usually the ex-USSR partner is connected via a commercial carrier and has to pay for the volume of sent and received messages either in hard currency or at exorbitant high (ruble) prices. This is true, too, for fax messages. At the beginning of 1992 the cost of a one-minute fax to the U.S. was 108 rubles, approximately 25% of an average monthly salary.



The first contacts between the USSR and the West were set up through the Institute of Automated Systems (IAS), known under the Russian acronym VNIIPAS. The institute was supervised by the USSR State Committee on Computers and Informatics and the USSR Academy of Sciences; it is now privatized. It provides telecommunication services, turnkey projects, hardware and software production and network designs. The institute manages the National Centre for Automated Data Exchange (NCADE), which runs IASNET, the first, and still the major, public packet switching network in the former USSR.

Presently this net is connected internationally (DNIC 2502) via X.75 lines with the Austrian Radaus and the Finnish Datapak systems, and via X.25 lines with Kuba and TRT in the U.S. The main IASNET node is in Moscow, and sub-nodes exist in Kiev and St. Petersburg. Some 50 leased line (X.25) connections exist to more than 70 organizations all over the former Soviet Union and to several research centers in or near Moscow.

IAS arranged the export of Soviet online databases, e.g., ECOTASS to FIZ Technik and Pergamon; TASS English Language News Service to Profile and NEXIS; SOVMED Books and Articles to DIMDI; and the INFOLINK Soviet Press Digest to NEXIS. Furthermore, through IASNET connections Soviet information specialists used to access the major Western database hosts like STN, Data-Star, NEXIS, DIALOG, DIMDI, and Telesystemes QUESTEL.

All major ex-USSR database hosts in Moscow can be reached through IAS:

* ICSTI (International Center for

Scientific Information) - ten databases

on science and technology * VINITI (All-Union Institute for

Scientific and Technical Information)

- 54 databases on science and

technology * VNTICentre (All-Union Center for

Scientific and Technical Information) - four

databases on science and

technology, including reports,

dissertations and software * GBL (Lenin Library) - five databases,

culturally oriented * INION (Institute for Information on

Social Sciences) - 14 databases on

sociology, history and the humanities * GPNTB (State Public Library for

Science and Technology) - eight

databases on books, serials, software,

grey literature * POISK (Patents Institute VNIIPI) - six

databases on patents and

inventions in science and technology * JV DIALOG (Joint Venture DIALOG)

- four full-text databases on politics

and economics


IAS operates a simple English-language mailbox, used by more than 500 users worldwide for direct (and thus very reliable) information exchange. A guest account can be reached via +2502299000036, username GUEST, password GUEST. Foreign users can have their own contract, but because of Soviet regulations IAS has set up joint ventures for this purpose. For access to Europe there is INFOCOMM, founded jointly with the Finnish PTT. The Soviet-American JV SOVAM/Teleport covers the American market. IAS servers are equipped with 300/1200/2400/9600 baud modems, for 1200/2400 baud rates MNP5 error correction is supported. The KERMIT protocol is supported.

IAS e-mail prices differ for ex-USSR or foreign customers, but seem reasonable. The registration fee is 500 rubles ($100 U.S.), the password fee is 50 rubles/month ($10 U.S.), connect time charges are 0.3 ruble/minute (10 [cents]/minute), transmitted information costs 0.4 ruble/KB (20 [cents]/KB) and storage charges are 0.2 ruble/KB/day (20 [cents]/KB/day). For further information contact Elena Petrova[2] via the Internet ( or user IAS-10 from the GUEST account of the IAS mailbox.


IAS has set up a number of cooperation projects. Through a joint venture with Sprint, standard X.25 access is provided to SprintNet from a number of nodes in major cities (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nahodka, Perm), with more planned. In its first year of operation the outfit has attracted customers from Soviet organizations and multinational corporations in the communications, law and aerospace fields. The SprintNet centers allow Soviet users to communicate with users in 108 countries worldwide and to tap nearly 3,000 database information services.

Under the INFOCOM project, involving Fintelcom (the Finish PTT), the Moscow Local Telephone Network and IAS, two independent channels connect Moscow to Finland: one directly to Finish DATAPAK (X.25), the other through IASNET (X.75). The Finnish DATAPAK reroutes the traffic to any public packet switching network or private network that can be reached through public networks. Further information is available via this Internet address: infocom@

The San Francisco-Moscow Teleport SFMT provides teleconferencing and e-mail on its San Francisco node SOVUSA to some 700 users, mostly American organizations with Moscow offices. The sister joint venture Sovam Teleport offers, through dial-in nodes in Moscow and St. Petersburg, X.25 access to Western networks. SFMT has begun offering ruble services on its new Moscow host, SOVAMSU. Thus, an SFMT user has an address like, whereas if that user is on SOVAMSU, it looks like user@ For information[3] on SFMT contact support@sovusa. com, on Sovam Teleport 4783431@


By far the most widely accessible e-mail system is RELCOM, a venture started 1990 in Moscow by the Kurchatov Atomic Energy Institute and the Demos cooperative. Its explosive growth results already in a doubling of traffic every month. Presently RELCOM connects, by hourly UUCP contacts between the main Moscow hosts and approximately 60 contracted city nodes, about 60,000 people in 2500 enterprises. Eight-bit communications provide support for Russian-language messages.

RELCOM's link with the West is a leased-line connection to Finland and thus its Internet gateway is through EUnet. It presently serves all of the ex-USSR, although some of the new countries are forging their own links, particularly the Baltic states, through Scandinavia. RELCOM addresses use the top-level domain .su, other ex-USSR domains (like .ua for Ukrainia) can be reached through them. Second-level domains are usually (new) city names, and third-level domains are subscribing organizations. The major node at KIAE, equipped with four microVAX and several more PCs, is connected to the KIAE LAN and is accessible by 9600 baud Telebit T2500 and 2400 baud MNP5 modems around the clock. Sub-nodes existed in St. Petersburg, Kiev, Novosibirsk, Tallinn and Serpukhov/Protvino, and more are under construction. Users can send (encoded) binary files for data security.

Prices for ex-USSR customers are stiff, around 5,000-7,000 rubles for transfer of 1MB, which includes sent and received volume. But this amounts only to about $20 (U.S.) to sign on, about $15 (U.S.) per month, and about $60 (U.S.) per megabyte of throughput with the West (and much less for ex-USSR mail). However, those figures are far higher for organizations, which have to pay 2,300 rubles/month as a user fee plus 10,500 rubles/MB. For more information[4] contact Dima Volodin at


SUEARN, a Russian division of EARN, was at long last connected in early 1992. Its international node (SUEARN2) at the Institute of Organic Chemistry is connected via a 9600 baud leased line to NEUVM in Copenhagen (Denmark), a domestic line connects to a second operating node, SUCEMI, at the Central Mathematical and Economics Institute. By mid-1991 about 120 institutions had expressed their interest to join the project, most of them research organizations, universities and scientific societies. The first non-Moscow nodes are planned for Vilnius, Yaroslav and Ivanovo, with a line to Vladivostok in the long-range plan.

However, because ex-USSR research institutions are suffering severely in the hard economic times, it is unlikely that SUEARN will expand quickly. To facilitate access to EARN/BITNET for institutions without their own nodes the (cost-free) FREENET (For Research, Education and Engineering Network) is funded by the Computer Assistance to Chemical Research center at the IOH. FREENET is a TCP/IP network based on PCs and connected by leased telephone or dial-up lines. The SUEARN coordinator[5] is Andrej Mendkovitch (mend@ suearn2 or MEND on IAS-mail); the FREENET coordinator is Evgeny Mironov (


GLASNET, a project of the Institute for Global Communications in San Francisco, is a member of the Association for Progressive Communications, the major member of which is PeaceNet in the U.S. Glasnet's mission is to provide low-cost (ruble) electronic communication to social-action organizations. It presently has about 150 members in the ex-USSR who log on to the Moscow host through dial-ups in Moscow, St Petersburg, and Kiev. E-mail is carried to and from the West via daily phone links with PeaceNet. The Moscow contact[6] is Anatoly Voronov (


Finally, the spread of private computers in the ex-USSR has allowed Fidonet connections and local BBSs. In 1991 only 1,200 international circuits existed in the USSR, and all were located in Moscow. Plans were announced by Western companies to install three additional international gateway switchers in Kiev (4,000), St. Petersburg (4,000) and Moscow (15,000). These lines will increase the chance to get a stable phone connection to one of the more than 200 bulletin board systems that have sprung up in over thirty cities, especially in the Baltic states, since 1989. Many are connected by Fidonet to the West. The Moscow Fido Coordinator is Peter Kvitek at JV Dialog. The list in the Figure gives only a few examples from various cities.

This description of online communications with the ex-USSR is only a summary. The author welcomes comments or could provide more information by electronic mail (klotzbuecher@mpi-muelheim.


[1] Klotzbucher, Werner. "Online Behind The Old Iron Curtain: Computer-Assisted Information And Communication With CMEA Countries." ONLINE 15, No. 2 (March 1991): pp. 103-108. [2] Elena Petrova, Institute of Automated Systems, 2a Nezhdanova St, 103009 Moscow, Fax +7-095-229-3237. [3] Sovam Teleport, Dr. Valdimir E. Teremetsky, +7-095-229-9663, Fax +7-095-229-4121. San Francisco-Moscow Teleport (SFMT), 3278 Sacramento Street, San Francisco, CA 94115; 415/931-8500, Fax 415/931-2885. [4] Dmitry Volodin, Demos Cooperative, pod.1 d.6 Ovchinnikovskaya nab., 113035 Moscow, Russia; +7-095-231-2129, Fax +7-095-233-5016. [5] Dr. Andrej Mendkovitch, Evgeny Mironov. CACR, N.D. Zelinsky Institute of Organic Chemistry, Leninsky prosp 47, 117913 Moscow, Russia; +7-095-135-4133, 135-6388, Fax +7-095-135-5328. [6] Dave Caulkins, GlasNet USA, 437 Mundel Way, Los Altos, CA 94022; 415/948-5753, Fax 415/948-1474; Internet: Anatoly Voronov, GlasNet Russia, Ulitsa Yaroslavskaya 8, Korpus 3, Room 111, 129164 Moscow, Russia; +7-095-217-6173,217-6182.


DR. WERNER KLOTZBUCHER is a researcher at the Max-Planck-Institute for Radiation Chemistry in Mulheim a.d.Ruhr, investigating the identity of short-lived photochemistry intermediates. As a sideline he is in charge of computer-assisted information and communication. Via a research project with the Institute of Spectroscopy, Academy of Sciences USSR, he became interested in improving the communication with Soviet scientists.

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